Miami Latin America Meets Here
By Vanessa Zambrano
The XIX Inter-American Conference of Mayors and Local Authorities this week brought public officials from Latin America to Miami once again.
The three-day annual event, organized by the Miami-Dade County and Florida International University, brought together more than 600 mayors and local government officials from 28 countries of the Western Hemisphere, as well as members of international organizations and US government agencies.
The event has been held ever since Miami-Dade County Commissioner Javier D. Souto had the idea while speaking to a friend, a former Peruvian mayor, 19 years ago.
"Miami is the capital of Latin America, it is full of business opportunities, banks and connections," Mr. Souto said during the introductory remarks Tuesday. He said the conference has become the largest annual event for local government officials from throughout Latin America, has played a major role in the further development of Miami-Dade County as the crossroads of the hemisphere, and has helped democracy throughout the Americas.
Allan Rosenbaum, director of the Institute for Public Management & Community Service at Florida International University, said that hosting the event in Miami has a big economic impact here. "Many come with families, they do purchase and they spend additional days vacationing."
Mr. Rosenbaum said that due to the connections that are made at the yearly event, it has had a significant impact on organizations.
"At last year’s conference, for instance, the World Bank representatives realized quickly that there were mayors from cities such as Quito or Cali, but the majority was from smaller-sized cities," Mr. Rosenbaum said. "They started thinking about it and went back to their offices and developed a strategy to connect their programs and their activities with little communities, so there’s actually a consequence that benefits local governments throughout the hemisphere."
One major element this year differentiates the gathering from past ones: thinking smaller.
Arturo Herrera, one of the keynote speakers, is sector manager for the Public Sector Unit, Poverty Reduction & Economic Management for Latin America and the Caribbean at the World Bank, an organization that joined the event four years ago. He said that last year’s conference was gratifying because his organization encountered many public officials eager to provide a better quality of life for the citizens of their towns or cities.
He pointed out that 90% of municipalities in Latin America have fewer than 50,000 people, which makes them very small. Counties with fewer than 100,000 people usually generate only 10% of the income they need; the rest has to come from the central government.
"The process is not designed for small municipalities, and needs tend to be higher in those," he said.
Since last year, the World Bank has come up with a four-step plan to help small communities: to address the coordination problem between the central government and the local one, to offer low-cost modern management models, to apply mechanisms to help the community better understand its challenges, and to help improve communication and feedback among citizens and government officials.
The second keynote speaker, Mark Lopes, assistant deputy administrator for Latin America & the Caribbean at the US Agency for International Development, said politics are local because everything that has an impact on quality of life is taken care of through local government.
His agency is focusing on four main areas in Latin America: safety, citizen participation, environmental concerns, and the reconstruction of Haiti.
"We are not where we wanted to be by 2013," he said, "but we are better than 20 years ago in regards to health and education in the region."
Mr. Lopes said the Agency for International Development wants to be a catalyst for change. Among new dynamics the agency is implementing, Mr. Lopes said, it is now hiring local companies instead of from the US in order to help strengthen local institutions.
The agency, he said, is also creating alliances with private sector companies that want to help bring growth to the region, and promoting trilateral agreements among Latin American countries that can help one another.
Finally, he said, the agency is sharing lessons learned from cities such as Rio de Janeiro or New York in order to adjust those success models and help other ones.To read the entire issue of Miami Today online, subscribe to e-MIAMI TODAY, an exact digital replica of the printed edition.